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The Bonfire of the Vanities Paperback – November 1, 1988


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reissue edition (November 1, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553173278
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553275971
  • ASIN: 0553275976
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (273 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #328,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

After Tom Wolfe defined the '60s in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers and the cultural U-turn at the turn of the '80s in The Right Stuff, nobody thought he could ever top himself again. In 1987, when The Bonfire of the Vanities arrived, the literati called Wolfe an "aging enfant terrible."

He wasn't aging; he was growing up. Bonfire's pyrotechnic satire of 1980s New York wasn't just Wolfe's best book, it was the best bestselling fiction debut of the decade, a miraculously realistic study of an unbelievably status-mad society, from the fiery combatants of the South Bronx to the bubbling scum at the top of Wall Street. Sherman McCoy, a farcically arrogant investment banker (dubbed a "Master of the Universe," Wolfe's brilliant metaphorical co-opting of a then-important toy for boys), hits a black guy in the Bronx with his Mercedes and runs--right into a nightmare peopled by vicious mistresses, thin wives like "social x-rays," slime-bag politicos, tabloid hacks, and Dantesque denizens of the "justice" system. If the Coen and Marx brothers together dramatized The Great Gatsby, Wolfe's Bonfire would probably be funnier. Many think his second novel, A Man in Full, is deeper, but Bonfire will never die down.

You might find it interesting to compare the film The Bonfire of the Vanities, a fascinating calamity perpetrated by the geniuses Brian De Palma and Tom Hanks, with The Right Stuff, one of the very best films of the '80s. --Tim Appelo

From Publishers Weekly

In his spellbinding first novel, Wolfe proves that he has the right stuff to write propulsively engrossing fiction. Both his cynical irony and sense of the ridiculous are perfectly suited to his subject: the roiling, corrupt, savage, ethnic melting pot that is New York City. Ranging from the rarefied atmosphere of Park Avenue to the dingy courtrooms of the Bronx, this is a totally credible tale of how the communities uneasily coexist and what happens when they collide. On a clandestine date with his mistress one night, top Wall Street investment banker and snobbish WASP Sherman McCoy misses his turn on the thruway and gets lost in the South Bronx; his Mercedes hits and seriously injures a young black man. The incident is inflated by a manipulative black leader, a district attorney seeking reelection and a sleazy tabloid reporter into a full-blown scandal, a political football and a hokey morality play. Wolfe adroitly swings his focus from one to another of the people involved: the protagonist McCoy; Kramer, the assistant D.A.; two detectivesone Irish, the other Jewish; a slimy, alcoholic British journalist; an outraged judge, etc. He has an infallible, mocking ear for New York voices, rendering with equal precision the defense lawyer's "gedoutdahere," the deliberate bad grammar ("that don't help matters") of the wily "reverend" and the clenched-teeth WASP locution ('howjado"). His reporter's eye has seized every gritty detail of the criminal justice system, and he is also acute in rendering the hierarchy at a society party. He convincingly equates the jungles of Wall Street and the Bronx: in both places men casually use the same four-letter expletives and, no matter what their standing on the social ladder, find that power kindles their lust for nubile young women. Erupting from the first line with noise, color, tension and immediacy, this immensely entertaining novel accurately mirrors a system that has broken down: from the social code of basic good manners to the fair practices of the law. It is safe to predict that the book will stand as a brilliant evocation of New York's class, racial and political structure in the 1980s. 200,000 first printing; $200,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild dual main selection; author tour.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Tom Wolfe is the author of more than a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and A Man in Full. A native of Richmond, Virginia, he earned his B.A. at Washington and Lee University and a Ph.D. in American studies at Yale. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Tom Wolfe is a great writer.
Z. Blume
I'm so glad I was reminded to pick this book up again, because it's one of those you'll read again and again like every five years or so.
Sandy Reed
The characters seem real--the story seems real and you end up rooting for the protagonist despite his many flaws.
ironman96

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

134 of 154 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
I think that one of the most startling things about this novel is that, for everyone who reads it, there is a different pivotal image, a separate moment in the book which forms an axis for the work. For me, it's Sherman McCoy's phone conversation with his estranged wife, in which he talks about the days when, as he went off to work, he would turn on the street under the window where she was watching, and give the black power sign. It meant, to this white son-of-a-lawyer, that he wasn't going to get sucked into Wall Street, that he was only using it; that it wouldn't change him.
Fast forward a dozen or so years, and Sherman is 38. He's one of New York's leading Bond salesman, a self-titled Master of the Universe who makes a million dollars a year (and that isn't enough), barely sees his wife, and is cheating with another man's gold-digging spouse. As a matter of fact, when we first meet Sherman, the only redeeming feature he has is that he does seem to really love his five-year-old daughter.
Sherman is not the only disgusting character we find as our story opens. There's the mistress, Maria, who laughs at her husband from the confines of her sublet rent-controlled love-nest. The wife is bitchy enough to lose sympathy with the reader despite her husband's philandering. There's the alcoholic tabloid journalist, who is an expert at getting other people to pick up the tab. And there's a thinly veiled reference to the Rev. Al Sharpton, just to complete the picture. When the book opens, the only character with whom the reader can sympathize is Larry, a lawyer who chose to work in the Bronx D.A.'s office because he wants to "make a difference".
And yet, the reader is sucked into the lives of these people.
Read more ›
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By mirasreviews HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Regarded by some as the essential literary representation of 1980s America, "Bonfire of the Vanities" was written during the economic boom and urban crime waves of that decade and published almost as the stock market crashed in 1987. It follows the lives of a group of characters who express New York City's ethnic, socio-economic, and political rivalries through their involvement in a highly-publicized case of hit-and-run. A car belonging to Sherman McCoy of Park Avenue, one of Wall Street's most successful bond brokers, accidentally strikes a young black man in the Bronx. With the injured man in a coma, Harlem preacher, politician, and general rabble-rouser Rev. Reginald Bacon sees an opportunity to advance his agenda -by delivering the racially charged case to ambitious District Attorney Abe Weiss and to unscrupulous tabloid journalist Peter Fallow. Prosecutor Lawrence Kramer jumps at the opportunity to bring down a wealthy WASP in the name of equality. And streetwise Irish lawyer Tommy Killian may be McCoy's only ally in a city where truth and justice take a back seat to just about everything.

"Bonfire of the Vanities"' flaw is ironically the source of its strength. The book is over 600 pages long. It follows too many characters and spends a lot of time describing the world from their point of view. The book's insights rely on its many perspectives, but at the same time, the descriptions are cumbersome. Tom Wolfe generally does not cast his characters in sympathetic light. His willingness to call it how they see it draws the reader into the story out of an almost perverse curiosity. The blunt talk and peek inside the worlds of city politics, tabloid journalism, criminal law, and Park Avenue lifestyles keep us interested. The story is found in the self-serving hostilities and interdependencies of New York's many factions more than it is in the sequence of events. And it's all thoroughly plausible, sadly.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Edward Scott Haas on January 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
In *Bonfire of the Vanities*, pop journalist Wolfe takes a sneering satirical look (from a surprisingly European point of view) at American culture and all of its absurdities and obsessions. New York is treated as the microcosm of 80s America with all of its fads, rivalries, economic woes and class inequality mixing together uneasily and then exploding. Sherman McCoy, the supremely irritating central charater, is a fresh-faced adolescent of 38 years who just doesn't get the fact that the world is a harsh, dangerous place--that is until he becomes the fall guy in a politically and racially charged scandal. Peter Fallow (by far the best character in the book)is a delightfully cynical and misanthropic British journalist who observes the parade the do-gooder activists, slick political manipulators, confused cops, thuggish cops, skeletal society ladies, urban punks, garish architecture, trash culture and trendy clubs with an acid wit and always a few stiff drinks under his belt. If they ever make a real movie out of this book (the existing one doesn't count) PLEASE get Jeremy Irons to play Fallow. Some people see this book as some kind of right-wing propaganda. It isn't. Wolfe, despite his own more or less conservative views, allows the story to tell itself without a lot of interpretation from above. Each character is a complex individual with his or her own unique motivations and mixture of vice and virtue. We spend time inside the minds and private lives of a wide variety of people and are allowed to make our own judgements about who deserves what measure of praise or blame. If there is any prejudice in the book it is against people who simplify complex issues. Wolfe's world, like the real thing, is brimming with paradox.
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